Daybreak, Henri Nouwen, and Me Pt 7

This is part 7 of 7 of a sermon given 4/11/15 at Westminster Church in New Brighton, PA. In it, I share about my recent trip to L’Arche Daybreak in Canada to research author Henri Nouwen. The sermon can be heard on itunes or at

The only way through is to really trust God. You are loved so much that Jesus gave his life for you. You are the beloved. This is the truth that Henri Nouwen seemed to come back to again and again in his life and his writing.

Henri had a wonderful way of talking about trusting God. One year while on Sabbatical in Germany Henri went to the circus. There, he was captivated by the Flying Rodleighs on the trapeze bars. He saw them several times and eventually got to meet them. At one point later on Henri even tried the trapeze bars himself, with safety equipment, of course.

Henri asked the Flying Roleighs about the trapeze act. They told him about the discipline it takes to work together like that. But he also learned that while everybody thinks that the important person is the flyer, in reality the most important person is the catcher. The flyer has to fly and then put their arms out and trust that the catcher is going to catch them. If the flyer does not trust the catcher than the flyer will try to grab the catcher and will end up falling. The flyer has to keep their arms straight and really trust the catcher.

Henri used to say that God is the catcher in our lives. That we can trust God. We can fly in our lives and know that God will keep us from falling. One of the hardest areas to trust God is in being ourselves around other people. It takes so much weakness and vulnerability. It can be so messy. It requires courage to trust God like that. And there is no harder place to trust God as the catcher than in being comfortable with ourselves and giving ourselves to others in relationship. But life is so much sweeter when we fly. Trust God and try to find God in the places where God has the most room to work—in our weaknesses and in our relationships with each other.

I am continuing to process my trip to Daybreak, but I am already noticing a few practical changes. I am trying to live a little more in the moment. I am trying to feel less busy. I am trying to be myself and be comfortable with who I am—weaknesses and all. And I am trying to develop deeper community and intimacy in my family and my relationships. What might God be calling you to do?

Daybreak, Henri Nouwen, and Me Pt 6

This is part 6 of 7 of a sermon given 4/11/15 at Westminster Church in New Brighton, PA. In it, I share about my recent trip to L’Arche Daybreak in Canada to research author Henri Nouwen. The sermon can be heard on itunes or at

Even though my visit was only a few days, it has hung onto me and not let me go. I have been thinking a lot about Matthew 18:20 which says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” I think that God is always with us, so why does Jesus say that He is there when two or three are gathered? I learned in a new way during my time at Daybreak that God is with us in a special way when we are in deep community with others.

When we are in relationship with one another, there is a space between us. It is a place that is not there when we are alone. And in this place God has special room to work. As we interact and brush against one another we have all of these points of contact that God can use to shape, change, and teach both you and I. It is sacred space between you and I and in our midst. But there are 3 problems that we face in seeking this kind of sacred space between us.            First, this kind of deep community takes a lot of personal vulnerability. It is not easy to be yourself and open yourself up to another in relationship. The vulnerability and the caring go together. The same vulnerability unlocks the depth of caring that makes it possible for us to live with our own disabilities and weaknesses. But you have to risk being open in order to find the very support you need to be open.

Second, this kind of deep community can be messy. It might lead us to see things about ourselves we did not want to see. We may be sadder when we lose someone because we are closer to them. We may have to slow down to invest time in one another. We might have to have some rules like the no flatulence rule. Community is not easy and is sometimes dirty, slow, and downright frustrating.

Third, people who are weak or different play a critical role in this kind of community. The weaker ones have much to teach. So it is often easier for us to pretend- to put on masks. To avoid people different than we are. To be around people like us. To seek opinions of others that we know will line up with our views. The outcast, the broken, the less important- these people stand in our lives as a critique of what is normal. They show us where we are also weak and they call us to become the best and most compassionate versions of ourselves.

I do not mean do downplay or romanticize the challenge of living with and loving people who have disabilities or are emotionally or spiritually broken. At Daybreak I got to see how challenging it was to be in that world all the time. But at Daybreak they wade right into the messiness of community.

I also do not mean to imply that I am great at this. So often I hide behind my position and my education. I would like my ministry to come out of my strengths—my creativity and my energy. But I am reminded that Paul writes, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 ESV)

This is scary for me, too. To stop fronting is to really trust in God. To admit my own handicaps and disabilities, even when mine are much less visible and more easily hidden. So I stay busy, feel important, keep myself hidden from others. But when I think that when we hide from others we also end up hiding from who we really are. And not only do we limit the space that God can work in between us, but I think it is in our weaknesses that God has the most room to work. Our disabilities are also sacred space in the Father’s hands.

Daybreak, Henri Nouwen, and Me Pt 5

This is part 5 of 7 of a sermon given 4/11/15 at Westminster Church in New Brighton, PA. In it, I share about my recent trip to L’Arche Daybreak in Canada to research author Henri Nouwen. The sermon can be heard on itunes or at

After dinner in each house, a candle was lit and everyone held hands. One person would start and then everyone around the table prayed for whoever they wanted to. Nothing was hurried. Everyone was important.

I wondered how Henri Nouwen must have lived in the tension of pace and priorities. While he lived at Daybreak he wrote, taught, and travelled globally and then returned to the pace of Daybreak. It must have been so jarring.

On Friday I got to spend some time at The Woodery. This wood shop is actually a business that makes wooden ground stakes for construction companies and small wooden wheels for craft sets. It may sound dangerous for disabled people to work in a wood shop, but, I assure you, it was well supervised and very safe. I worked with a man named Robin to cut boards throughout the day. For the saw to cut the boards, we both had to press a button with each hand several feet away from the saw.

I was happy after a couple of days of rest and study to get some manual labor done. I thought I was taking my time, but I was told right away that I needed to slow down even more. In fact, in the afternoon I was told that I was not allowed to finish the job I was working on. If I finished cutting the stakes that I had then they were going to have to take stakes away from the man who was sharpening the stakes. It always bothered him when his stacks were taken away, so I had to be sure that did not happen. This has to be the only time I was told not to finish a job.

Fridays at The Woodery are a special day. On Fridays that staff all go to a local restaurant called Joe’s Burgers. When they walk in they do not even have to order food because the restaurant knows what everyone gets. Before we went to Joe’s Burgers, the staff went through their rules for Joe’s Burgers with the core members. Each seemed to have experience behind them—no fighting, no yelling, no talking to people we do not know, no eating other people’s food… One rule, however was emphasized above all other. The rule, and I quote, “No Farting.” Apparently The Woodery had been cleared out on more than one Friday afternoon from the effects of a trip to Joe’s Burgers. I must say that I personally felt the need for this rule that afternoon, but I say proudly that I did not break the rule.

That Friday night the Daybreak community gathered for worship. A number of other people from the local area joined as well. Some just liked to worship there. Others had children with special needs who had trouble going to other churches because of the noises they made or their appearance. I read the Psalm for the night as we sang and prayed. The sermon was given by the head of worship and by John who now had my business card in his collection.

After worship, I got in my car and drove late at night to Erie to be with my family and to head the rest of the way home the next day. I brought back with me a few crosses that I bought at the craft studio. Several of them had been made by people I had met during my visit.

Daybreak, Henri Nouwen, and Me Pt 4

This is part 4 of 7 of a sermon given 4/11/15 at Westminster Church in New Brighton, PA. In it, I share about my recent trip to L’Arche Daybreak in Canada to research author Henri Nouwen. The sermon can be heard on itunes or at

I got to see the strength of this kind of intimate community on Wednesday. There had been a death in the community. One of the assistants had died suddenly of a heart attack. Wednesday morning the community gathered to tell stories and share memories of her life. People got up and share humorous jokes, moving poems, and emotional good byes to this person who had been an important part of the community for a long time. Even several of the core members spoke. Not all of them could be very well understood and some of their sharing ended up getting a little off topic. Still, their input was not only valued but it was critically important. They were the core members and were the center of the community.

The Woodery got a coffin and coated it in a special paint. Throughout the week I was there, everyone who wanted to in the community came and painted the coffin. It was covered in pictures and words that represented not only the one who passed but also the community that would miss her.

The people from Daybreak apologized for the change in my schedule. They did not give me the full tour around the facility that they wanted to do. I felt that I actually got a much deeper view of the community during that service.

I tried to imagine doing a service like this at my own church. Could we speak of one another with this kind of raw honesty? Do we even know one another well enough to tell those kind of stories? As I shared dinner in another house that night, I could not help but long for that kind of closeness in my own family and church.

On Thursday I took the bus and the subway down to the University of Toronto to visit to the Henri Nouwen Archives. It was so cool to sit in a library and read unpublished and handwritten sermons and lectures by Henri. I read material on how he taught pastors in seminary and taught others at Daybreak to be pastors for their community.

Perhaps the most interesting discovery of my trip to the Archives was the contrast between the pace and priorities of the city and university as compared to Daybreak. In the city, everyone was in a hurry. No one spoke to each other or even looked at one another during my commute. Everyone just read their papers, looked at their phones, and hurried to get somewhere other than where they were.

By contrast, dinner that night in another of the homes at Daybreak seemed so slow and deliberate. Not only did dinner take a long time, but people were so much more aware of one another. Two of the core members kept hugging each other and calling each other their best friends. After one of the hugging core members with Down Syndrome, Mary Anne, finished her meal, she took over from one of the assistants feeding Hsi-Fu, a more severely handicapped housemate. This allowed the assistant who had been feeding His-Fu, to finish his own meal. They were more aware and they cared then my trip into the city.

Daybreak, Henri Nouwen, and Me Pt 3

This is part 3 of 7 of a sermon given 4/11/15 at Westminster Church in New Brighton, PA. In it, I share about my recent trip to L’Arche Daybreak in Canada to research author Henri Nouwen. The sermon can be heard on itunes or at

I got to see that first night and live in those 4 days a deep community. Life was so shared. It was intimate. Everybody was authentic. They were just themselves and shared their life freely with others. They lived life together and not just next to each other. Everyone was vulnerable and raw. There was such a deep level of sharing, caring, and being open to one another.

When Henri Nouwen came to that community, he worked in the same house that I had dinner in that first night. His job was to take care of Adam. Adam was one of the more significantly disabled people in the community. Henri had to take a couple of hours to get Adam ready in the morning. Get him up, showered, dressed, fed, and to his day program.

At first, Henri struggled to relate to Adam. He was not sure what to say or how much would get through to Adam. But as Henri worked with Adam over time he began to call Adam his teacher. Adam taught Henri how to be himself and how to slow down and be really present in the moment. If Henri rushed and was not really focused on Adam, then Adam would often have a seizure. Over time, Henri began to feel honored that he was trusted with the most delicate person in the community.

As Henri got comfortable at Daybreak, it became home for him. Henri was a person who wanted to please others and was very sensitive about what other people said about him. He had some things about himself that he was not always comfortable with. As he relaxed in the Daybreak community and felt comfortable enough to be himself, he became overwhelmed with what he found. He ended up needing to leave the community for a little while to deal with some of the personal wounds that had been exposed during his time there.

We all have disabilities. We have places in our thinking, in our behavior, and in our lives that do not work the way they are supposed to. Some are very visible, others we can keep hidden. Sometimes when we are around people with more obvious weaknesses that are comfortable in their state, it makes us more uneasy about who we are. While being in this deep of a community can be challenging and can expose our weaknesses, it can also life-giving in that we can find in the community the strength to live with our disabilities.

Daybreak, Henri Nouwen, and Me Pt 2

This is part 2 of 7 of a sermon given 4/11/15 at Westminster Church in New Brighton, PA. In it, I share about my recent trip to L’Arche Daybreak in Canada to research author Henri Nouwen. The sermon can be heard on itunes or at

When I first arrived I met with Toni from the office who had coordinated my visit. We stopped off at New House. This was the house I would have dinner at the first night. I was greeted by John—an older man with Down Syndrome. John has been a core member at Daybreak for a long time. John said hello and then asked me for a business card. I stood there a little shocked by the request. I did not expect to need to show my credentials to anyone living there. Besides, I had been driving a few hours and did not have a business card. I was informed that John collects business cards. I went back to my room before dinner and looked through my stuff. I was determined to bring John a business card, even if it was not mine.

It was a special dinner that night. It was Saint Patrick’s Day and one of the staff members was actually an Irish priest who was there on sabbatical. We had a party complete with wine and a little Guinness. When I showed up for dinner I gave John my business card. He was so excited. Throughout the evening he showed his business card to every person in the home. Everyone had to look at it but no one was allowed to touch it. I think the staff of that house learned my name better than the other houses because of how many times John made them read it to him.

Stephen, another man with Down Syndrome, was also shown the business card. My business card has a generic picture of a drop of water hitting some water with ripples coming out of it. Stephen looked at it and said, “You’re a plumber.” I explained that I was a pastor not a plumber. I have wondered since if perhaps I am somewhat of a spiritual plumber.

That first night was very special for me. I learned quickly that this was a family. That everyone pitched in, helped out, and did things together. It also became clear that I was welcome at the table. They did not care who I was. They were just happy for me to be present. That I was a pastor or a plumber did not matter to them. That I was a doctor of ministry student or had a G.E.D. did not matter to them. I was welcome.

This is a little challenging for many of us. It was for me. It is challenging because we spend a lot of time fronting. We put on masks to hide our weaknesses. We often have trouble just being ourselves. We hide behind what can impress others. I do this all the time. I can play the pastor’s part. But I could not do that there. But while that was a little scary it was also quite refreshing and freeing. I felt welcoming to just simply be myself and be present.

Daybreak, Henri Nouwen, and Me Pt 1

This is part 1 of 7 of a sermon given 4/11/15 at Westminster Church in New Brighton, PA. In it, I share about my recent trip to L’Arche Daybreak in Canada to research author Henri Nouwen. The sermon can be heard on itunes or at

DaybreakNouwenOn March 17-20 I traveled to Toronto, Canada to have a retreat and do some research. I went there to do research on a man named Henri Nouwen and a community for disabled adults named L’Arche Daybreak. I was surprised by how much I learned about life, ministry, and myself.

I have been reading a number of books recently by Henri Nouwen. Nouwen was Dutch Catholic priest and author of a number of books. He lived from 1932-1996. Over those years, Henri taught at The University of Notre Dame, Yale Divinity School, and Harvard Divinity School. He was trained as a psychologist and wrote a lot about ministry and about Christian spirituality. He was a big author, speaker, and teacher, but he decided to leave the academy and go live with disabled adults for what would be the last 10 years of his life.

L’Arche is French for “The Ark.” This is the name that founder Jean Vanier gave to this organization when he brought 2 people with disabilities into his home in 1864. Fifty years later there are now 147 communities in 35 countries.

Daybreak in Toronto is the oldest community in North America. It was started in 1969 on what was then farmland. Now it is in the middle of a bustling suburb. It includes 8 homes of 4-5 disabled adults each. These are called core members because they are the core of the community. There were also a large number of assistants and staff from all around the world. Daybreak has several day programs including a wood shop called The Woodery and a craft studio.

I went there and stayed in a retreat center that Henri lived in. In fact, I found out later that I was actually staying in Henri’s room. I was told that the furniture had all been replaced so it was not worth it to steal anything. Each night I would have dinner in a different house at Daybreak. During the day I would be in the community except for Thursday when I would go to the University of Toronto to do research at the Henri Nouwen Archives.

The Holy Week Hangover

I have officially caught the Holy Week Hangover. I woke up Monday morning late and groggy with a stuffed up nose and a sore throat. Clearly I got the flu. Probably all the candy and other bad eating habits of the holidays are not helping. But I have come to expect such feelings on the day after Easter. Easter is busy. Not only are there extra worship services and extra sermons, but there is also a lot of pressure to have a good showing for Easter guests. I am always tired this week.

sleeping baby

The Holy Week Hangover also highlights 2 of the most challenging aspects of ministry:

  1. Ministry is personally draining. Ministry involves giving a lot of yourself to your work. It is unlike other jobs in this regard. It can be so much a part of who you are that some pastors get themselves absorbed into their work. Preaching is especially like this. Good sermons require a little blood to be given in the process.
  2. Ministry is inconsistent. Ministry ebbs and flows in its seasons, rhythms, and demands. Every day and every week is a little different. Some weeks, however, are harder on the body and the spirit than others. You get weeks of difficult sermons, weddings, 2 funerals, or a church conflict. Many pastors seem to like this aspect of the work except that it is uncontrollable. You don’t get to decide when your crazy weeks will be. (At least Holy Week is always scheduled ahead of time.)

So Holy Week comes and goes and we a left emotionally and spiritually spent, energetically and creatively empty, and in my case sick. What do we do about the Holy Week Hangover?

  1. Realize that the Holy Week Hangover is normal. It is ok to feel like this.
  2. If you feel like this all the time, then you have a problem. It is ok to feel like this after a big week, but if you always feel like this then you are practically sprinting to a burn out or a break down.
  3. Schedule very little for the week or two after Holy Week. I tend to leave some space in my calendar and the church calendar so that I can regroup and plan ahead in the weeks following Easter.
  4. Take some time to refresh. Invest some time in whatever brings you life—rest, sleep, binge watch TVshows, read a novel, visit with an old friend…
  5. Spend some time with your family. Chances are that your family has been a little on the back burner as Holy Week unfolded. Take time to spend some time with your spouse and kids.

Hope this post was helpful. I am going back to bed.